138:  The Player Cat Comes Among Us

A black, white, and orange cat against a background of flamesHow ill I used that fellow on first akwayntance!

But I’d never before seen a cat rowed across the river by a waterman.  I thought he was sent to spy on the Earl of Essex.

Scabface seized him by the throat and held him down.  I commenced the interrogation.

What was he?  Whom did he serve?  What business had he on our side of the river?

Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain (1547-1601) by Nicholas Hilliard. Patron of the company in which Shakespeare was a shareholder, but he signed the petition that prevented them from using the Blackfriars theatre as a public playhouse.

Between his yowls and pleas for mercie, he swore he was an honest cat.  In the service of the Lord Chamberlain.  Come to visit friends in Black-Fryes.

So why did he come to Essex House and leap onto our river wall?

He confessed he didn’t know where Black-Fryes was.

Now that were wondrous strange.  The Lord Chamberlain had a house in Black-Fryes.

Yet all this cat could tell me of Black-Fryes was that he’d heard of a playhouse there that gave plays for the better sort.

I arrkst him why he’d concealed hisself in the boat that carried the Earl of Essex’s friends.

He gasped, “To cross the water.”


Scabface gave him kicks for that impudencie.

So then he sayt that once across the river he’d hoped to find his way to Paws [St Paul’s].  And enkwire there for Black-Fryes, and his friends.

I, having caught him lying about the Lord Chamberlain, demanded to know who these friends were.

He would not tell us.  Scabface offered to bite his head clean off.

He confessed they were two sisters.  They’d come to him last spring.  Seeking Snakes-Purr the player.

I bade Scabface release him then.

He spake more free without Scabface’s teeth at his throat.

He sayt he’d told those sisters where Snakes-Purr might be found, but they – being citie queens – had no wish to cross the river.

Nor had he.  The south bank was a wicked place, festered with bears and bulls and bloodie dogs.  But one day he – being curious – followed a player along the street that leads to the bridge. 

When he wished to turn back, a gang of ruffians [dogs] chased him.  He ran through the citie gate, and sought shelter at an inn.

And having come so far, he journeyed on.  Inn to inn.  Then he crossed the bridge – praying no wicked person would cast him in the river for sport.

The Player Cat’s journey, adapted from a map in Joseph Quincy Adams’ ‘Shakespearean Theatres’.
He set out from the vicinity of the Curtain (upper right) and made his way south to the bridge.
The blue stars mark the inns where he may have sheltered – these had yards where plays were performed.
The brown circles on the south bank mark the approximate sites of bear and bull baiting; the playhouses are red.

He crept through the fearsome southern stinks until he nosed his Theater, built anew and named the Glob.  His old company, the Lord Chamberlain’s men, was there.  Snakes-Purr among them.

The Globe Theatre with the river shown behind it.
The Glob, better known as the Globe.

At the Glob he saw the gentlemen.  They’d come to bespeak a play of their own choosing.

“What play was that?” I arrkst, thinking of my uncle’s play in which I acted the Maggot.

“An old thing,” sayt he. “About a fool king.  There’s no kew [cue] for a cat in it.  So when the gentlemen went to the river to call for oars I followed them.  The wind was chill, and all sat hunched.  None saw me creep aboard.”

Scabface, wearie of this talk, gave me winks and slipped away.  I guessed he meant to go to White-Hall and make readie for the actions that were to come.

I told the player cat that I was bound for Black-Fryes.

He, having nowhere else to go, came limping after me.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTricks is as indifferent to days and dates as her uncle Gib was, but the player cat’s interrogation must have taken place on Thursday 5 or Friday 6 February 1601.

On one of those days Essex supporter Sir Charles Percy, with Lord Monteagle and a few others, commissioned a performance of a play “variously described as being ‘of Harry the iiiith,’ ‘of Kyng Harry the iiiith and of the kyllyng of Kyng Richard the Second,’ and ‘of the deposyng and kyllyng of Kyng Richard the Second’.[1]

This was to be played at the Globe on Saturday. Was it Shakespeare’s Henry IV

Or his Richard II?  Or a play by someone else?  It’s a matter of scholarly debate, but historian Paul Hammer favours Richard II.

Well, we do know the play wasn’t written by Gib because it’s of no interest to Tricks.

[1] Paul E. J. Hammer:  Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol 59, No.1, Spring 2008 pp. 1-35